Forget the Oscars -- all six of them. What the Kennedy Center should really honor legendary filmmaker Billy Wilder for is his stand-up act (well, at 84, maybe for his sit-down act). "It was a very peculiar moment, I'll tell you," said Wilder by phone last week from his Beverly Hills office, racing through his words to explain how he heard that he was one of five recipients of the 13th annual Kennedy Center Honors. "I got a couple of calls from Washington. I wasn't in my office. 'I know what it's about,' I thought. 'They have an opening in the Supreme Court. Maybe they will forgive me for not being educated in jurisprudence.' "

Rim shot.

Sure he was honored by the Honor, Wilder said in his legendary don't-praise-me-too-much fashion, but he wasn't bowled over. It was just another day in the life of the writer-director-producer who gave the world "Ninotchka," "Some Like It Hot" and "The Apartment."

"I was not shocked," he said. "When you get to be my age you've got quite a few of those medals and plaques."

The other recipients, announced last week by Kennedy Center Chairman James D. Wolfensohn, are trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, actress Katharine Hepburn, opera star Rise Stevens and Broadway composer Jule Styne. The annual gala performance, featuring an array of stars to be named later, will be held Dec. 2 at the Kennedy Center.

Gillespie was bopping "somewhere in Europe," playing his trademark bent trumpet, when he heard the news. "I was dumbfounded," he said later from his Englewood, N.J., home. Still touring the world at a, well, dizzying pace, the 72-year-old king of be-bop said the Kennedy Center Honor is "about the tops" in his long career. "I got another medal from the president, the National Medal of the Arts, last year," said Gillespie, who will meet President Bush again when the honorees are received at the White House before the gala. "And {the president} is going to say, 'You again?' "

Stevens, the reigning mezzo-soprano of the Metropolitan Opera in the '40s and '50s, said she was "very, very proud of this. It's sort of a highlight in my career. It's one of the best, if not the best."

Now managing director of the Met, Stevens, 77, said she is not considering retirement. "I let each day take its turn," she said from her home in New York.

Like Wilder, the 84-year-old Styne expressed no surprise at being named a Kennedy Center honoree. "Why should I be shocked? It was a long time coming," he said, but later added that "it's really an honor by the people of our country."

The composer of such classic musicals as "Gypsy" (currently playing on Broadway with Tyne Daly in the lead role), "Funny Girl," "Peter Pan" and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," Styne said the White House reception is nothing new to him either. "I've been to the White House before. I staged the Truman inaugural, so I met Truman then. I met Johnson, I went down for Nixon and Reagan. But this is the first time I'll be in the winner's box, so to speak."

Hepburn could not be reached for comment.

Casablanca to the Rescue

The Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, on shaky financial legs this year after an ill-timed 10th-anniversary expansion, received good news last week when the Casablanca Foundation announced that proceeds from its 13th annual charity ball would benefit the company.

"They need help," said Crystal Ettridge, Casablanca Ball chairwoman. "We've been aware of them for a number of years, and kept an eye on them."

Ettridge said she expects to draw up to 3,000 people to the Sept. 29 event at the National Building Museum. She said the foundation hopes to raise as much as $60,000 for the beleaguered theater company.

Howard Shalwitz, Woolly Mammoth's artistic director, said the foundation's gift would go a long way in helping the theater get on its feet again after a slow contribution year. "We're sitting on top of debts approaching $100,000 right now," said Shalwitz. "We want to get out of this situation as soon as possible. Obviously the Casablanca thing could be a tremendous help."